LAMC: Music Industry Tips #3

Tip #3: The best idea is going to come from a 15-year old.

Toy Hernandez, producer for the latest hit machine out of Monterrey, Mexico 3BallMTY (Tribal Monterrey), and Sebastian Krys, producer for La Santa Cecilia, Kinky, Shakira and various other Grammy winning artists, talked about being a producer of a certain age and experience at LAMC in NYC in July.

Krys said, as a producer, “you have to stay on top of the game, and the way that you do that is by accepting that the best idea is going to come from a 15-year old, it’s not going to come from you and your experience.” 

This may be hard to accept, but it’s true.  You should recognize that new ideas drive the industry and that your contribution is to refine them and get the most out of them.  “Those days are gone, my friend,” he said, and then roused the audience by calling for artists to make up their own formats, song lengths and album lengths, which earned him a few minutes of applause and approving heckles.  If you are moved to create something, he urged, don’t let the form hem you in.  

LAMC: Music Industry Tips #2

Tip #2: Exposure is the name of the game.

The conversation at LAMC panels moved into licensing. If you are interested in licensing your music, it will help to have a more complete picture about how that world works. Getting your music into the hands of licensing companies such as DMX or Lovecat Music is only one part of the puzzle. You may also have to make changes to your music to fit into a scene or rerecord a song on spec, without guaranteed pay.

Mary Nuñez of Sony Latin urged artists to always prepare instrumental tracks for use (read: master your instrumentals along with your main mixes), and keep your stems ready to hand over to the licensing companies as well.  You never know what element in your song matches a scene in a commercial or film and what will need to be pushed or downplayed in the mix. 

Nic Harcourt of KCRW agreed: “younger artists who are growing up in a different world from legacy artists, are a lot more hungry and realize that getting their music placed in TV commercials, movies, games, whatever, is probably the only way they’re going to make a living doing music right now.”

Randy Frisch at Lovecat Music and Anita Benner at DMX were particularly encouraging of artists submitting their CDs; they’re always looking for ways to bring new artists into the fold.

Regarding getting picked up as an independent Latin artist, Anita Benner said that with the growth of the Hispanic market in the U.S., clients are starting to appropriate more and more Latin music. “So, anywhere from a jewelry store that targets girls, to hallmark stores in middle America, Champs, every major fashion brand that you can think of, Victoria Secret, Best Buy, they’re all starting to incorporate Latin music in their programming. It’s really a tremendous platform,” she said, “simply walking down the street, you can’t escape us.”

DMX reaches almost 200 million people a day through various marketing venues, and as an artist, it can be a real boost to have such exposure, especially since radio play for independent artists is practically impossible.

Nic Harcourt hit the nail on the head when he said: “whether it’s placement in a commercial, or a major band that get’s their music in a TV show, or in VH1, exposure is the name of the game. It’s really frightening that the outlets and TV commercials still are a way, in some cases for breaking a band.”

The process at DMX is fairly simple: you fill out the contract in ten minutes, send in a CD and it takes up to two weeks to get into the system and then 30 days before you’re in rotation. “It’s a novelty,” says Benner, “to be able to walk into Nike or Puma or West Elm and hear your song playing.” And apparently it goes further than that. Some shoppers have turned into music bloggers who, through guesswork, post unofficial playlists for stores like Abercombie & Fitch. Within the microcosm of the shopper’s world is a growing online music community, another potential audience pool.

Josh Norek of Nacional Records recounted his surprise at placing Nortec Collective (pictured above) on a 30 second spot in a scene where Anthony Bourdain is eating tacos in Tijuana. The day after the show aired, all four of their albums were on the iTunes Latino Top 20. “And that surprised me,” said Norek, “because its a foodie show. I’ve had examples with shows like Breaking Bad, where we had a really good sales bump, but I wasn’t expecting a food show where it was just brief use. So I felt a little less bitter about the small licensing fee, because we saw a reaction where people liked the song and went on iTunes to find it.”

As an independent artist, try every route to get your music heard, because you never know what the outcome might be.

LAMC: Music Industry Tip #1, Story Is Everything

The Latin Alternative Music Conference hosted five panels last week to inform and inspire visiting and local attendees alike.  I donned my artist hat, took the wheel and sat down for a spin.The room was full of working artists and producers from Mexico to Argentina, and from Puerto Rico to Chile asking questions, and seeking a more complete picture of their industry.

Tip #1: Story Is Everything!

Licensing your music can be a good source of income for artists.  Carmelo Rodriguez from Vidal Partnership, an advertising agency, said that when he is searching for artists to license for commercial purposes, unknown artists are actually in the best position since larger artists tend to “eat” the commercial their music accompanies.  Most important is your skill at storytelling within the music. Besides the lyrics, does the music tell a story?

Also, can you tell your own personal story and does it translate to your audience and to corporations interested in using your music?  The way you talk about your journey is important.  Roberto Isaac from mun2 seconded the idea of story being vital to an audience “getting” the musician.  He said that people fall in love with an artist’s story and then they find the artist’s songs.

So, go crazy, tell people where you were born, where you grew up, what first inspired you to play and write music, who are your mentors and idols and what makes you tick.  Be generous with your life details and people will be generous right back.  Check out the Wikipedia, Last FM, and Myspace pages of your favorite artists to see how they did it.  Bands with good “stories” include Calle 13, Carla Morrison, 3BallMTY, Ximena Sariñana, and the list goes on.  Make it easy for people to learn about who you are.  The clearer your story, the easier it will be to promote and license your music.

Tip #2 will be about licensing your music.

LAMC: A Saintly Performance from La Santa Cecilia

The 13th annual Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) in NYC started off with spunk and spirit at the Mercury Lounge Showcase where artists sang to a mostly packed and enthusiastic audience.  The MC gave away free T-shirts and microphones from sponsors, while concert goers and artists alike mingled and danced to what turned out to be a very 1980s inspired evening.  Latin Alternative music isn’t a genre per se, but a gang of varying popular genres from Spanish or Spanglish hip hop and synth-pop to rock infused rancheras, boleros, bossas and cumbias.  Nacional Records, headed by Tomas Cookman and Josh Norek, is the hosting motor behind the festival, curating the showcases and panels and fostering relationships with domestic artists and those across the border and beyond.

The sparky “CubaRican” songstress Xenia Rubinos kicked things off with broad and high reaching vocals in a Dirty Projector style delivery that sputtered and stalled like a video game complete with false endings toppling artfully into scat singing to match up with keyboard strokes on “Cherry Tree.” 

Miami hip hop ensemble ArtOfficial featured vigorous sax solos from Keith Cooper that, like fireworks, outshone the innocuous urban rhymed lyrics of the songs. 

Alex Anwandter brought his Brit-synthy-electro-dance-pop vogue moves to the party, all the way from Santiago, Chile, basking in the glory of his local fans eager to get down to his latest hit “¿Cómo puedes vivir contigo mismo?”  (“How Can You Live With Yourself”).

Uruguayan electro-cumbia song and beat-maker Martin Buscaglia came on stage accompanied by his loop pedals and guitar to slow the party down by a few BPM and deliver fervent and impassioned songs of love and intrigue, which were more of a sound-art piece than a musical set.

The mood shifted slightly when Monica Lionheart took the stage, still intoning a 1980s synth-pop feel but with understated vocals to counteract her overstated hair, and a haunting bilingual set of harmonies and dynamics to pull us close. 

And although La Santa Cecilia stole the show for me, Gepe came in a close second, performing solo like a Chinchinero, a Chilean street performing one-man-band, instrumentally adept and completely focused on words of longing that in “Alfabeto” matched perfectly the charango opening and quena flute close. Many of his songs are influenced by traditional Andean instruments and rhythms from the 1960s and 1970s that he fuses together with a pop ballad sentiment.

The band I was there to see didn’t appear until almost 1:00 am, but it was well worth the wait. La Santa Cecilia was effervescent, joyful and celebratory in its performance with two different accordions, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, percussion, drums and bass. The singer, Marisoul Lead, took over the stage with her broad smile, vintage cat eye glasses and colorful fashion palate, and her voice has that classic sound like Etta James or Sarah Vaughan that you instantly trust and recognize for what it is: naturally free. The band played cumbias, boleros, Rancheras, Afro-Cuban numbers mixed with rock and they even played their own version of “Tainted Love,” the song made famous by Brit synth-pop duo Soft Cell in 1981. 

Maybe it’s because I grew up in LA listening to that song, or maybe it’s because I’m a product of the New Wave era, but La Santa Cecilia’s combination of Spanish and English lyrics mixed with the Mexican American instrumentation and dance energy topped my chart for the night, the only band to play a begged-for encore. Check out their Grammy-nominated song and video “La Negra” produced by the multi-Grammy and Latin Grammy winning producer Sebastian Krys.